Monday was a big day in Spruce Hill, starting with NBC10′s visit to the Arvilla to hear stories from residents being forced from their homes…
Meanwhile, neighbors had been preparing for Mission First’s presentation at the Spruce Hill Zoning Committee…
… where they delivered a nice sounding presentation about their lofty goals, while we circulated copies of the six week notice lease termination that was sent to the 81year old gentleman who’s called the building (and neighborhood) home for 50 years, and the predatory real estate listing that had been placed *before* residents were notified of the building’s impending sale.
Concerned residents peppered the Mission First execs with questions about both how the individual most vulnerable residents were being treated, and about how this choice to sell out one of the last remaining buildings of affordable housing in Spruce Hill would affect our neighborhood.
Mark Dietcher, Director of Business Development at Mission First, was adamant that the building would be sold, and didn’t seem receptive to exploring other avenues to work with the community to find an alternative solution that handed off the building to another organization that could renovate the building while keeping it affordable and keep our neighbors in our community.
We also learned a few other things from Mr Dietcher:
– The building has not yet been sold, although a buyer is interested (so there is still time for Mission First to shape a different outcome)
– Mission First was founded to create permanent housing for vulnerable communities. (Their current mission statement uses the word sustainable, but the parent organization’s tax filings use the word permanent, and Mr Dietcher used this word as well.
– Mission First has known for several years that their financing for renovation of this building had fallen through and that it might be at risk of sale, which makes it all the more unconscionable that they invited a young single mom with three kids to move into the building just seven months ago only to kick her out again.
Residents voiced concerns…
The Mission First team told us how they’d been taking such great care of all of the residents, but this didn’t jive with the statement by one of the residents who confirmed that he’d been pressured & belittled, put down & told that the one smaller efficiency unit that he’d be shown was the only thing available to him when he was supposed to be shown three comparable one bedroom apartments.
Other residents pointed out that apartments in North Philly or Roxborough wasn’t comparable to their current apartments… it’s not just about number of bedrooms. Forcing people to move from the neighborhoods that they know and have relationships in is an act of violence.
… even though they hadn’t even been invited.
It’s worth noting that Arvilla residents weren’t invited to this meeting: It was only advertised via the SHCA email list and other digital platforms that don’t necessarily reach Arvilla residents. Residents only knew about it because we told them about it.
One would hope/expect that an organization that claims to be serving the most vulnerable would make additional efforts to include them in conversations that they should be at the heart of.
Divide & conquer?
The only Arvilla resident who was invited to the meeting was a former resident, brought in to show off how nicely she’d been relocated and how “happy” she was with all of it. But she didn’t seem too thrilled to be there, and in fact had earlier expressed to block captain JJ Tiziou how upset she was that her three years in the neglected Arvilla had been “hell” and how worried she was about the other Arvilla residents.
The Mission First execs tried to push off our requests for a real sit down meeting (rather than this scripted presentation), saying that they would be happy to meet individually with their residents.
Of course, as we hear more resident stories about their experiences at the Arvilla, we are more and more concerned about Mission First’s capacity to look out for their interests and have less and less faith that they will truly well cared for in their one on one relationships with the organization so…
Unite & shape change!
… we’re continuing to draw attention to the issue & build a base of support to advocate for the Arvilla residents, affordable housing in Spruce Hill, and accountability by Mission First, as we work with them to find a better outcome.
Our pressure at the meeting resulted in an agreement to come to the table for a real meeting that brings them together with residents, concerned neighbors, advocates and Councilwoman Blackwell’s staff.
We had about three times as many people show up to SHCA than could fit in the room, and it was amazing to have this crowd awaiting outside as the Mission First team walked out, sharing two chants:
Halt Evictions, Make it Livable!
Put! Your! Mission First!
Closing out the night:
The evening wrapped up with the NBC team reporting live from the Arvilla, sharing this excellent piece, and the Channel 10 reporter saying that we’d likely be seeing more of him as he digs deeper into this story and follows it as it unfolds.
But wait, there’s more!
Tuesday was an eventful day at the Arvilla, starting with the arrival of the property manager to address the plumbing issue in one of the apartments:
This is in direct contradiction to the statement made by the Mission First team the preceding evening.
They had specifically told Councilwoman Blackwell’s Chief of Staff and the rest of the assembled community that there was no way that there was an apartment that had been without without water for close to two years, because they have such a wonderful maintenance program and yearly inspections and prioritize their residents experiences.
Look at the above video & decide who you believe.
One last tragedy:
Later that afternoon, an actual eviction happened, with a resident having the locks on his door changed on him.
Now, this was done legally, as the resident might be one of the more challenged folks in the building and had been behind on some rent (a paltry ~$500) and hadn’t shown up to a court date (again, hard when you’re among the most vulnerable and don’t have the right support.)
But it also had even more collateral damage:
This resident had also been sheltering a young couple that needed a place to stay. So they found themselves all of a sudden locked out as well, without access to some of their belongings. That’s three people out on the street unexpectedly last night.
Just in time for the holidays, & there’s no room at the inn.
While it may have been legal, it seems far from moral, and a far cry from the claims of caring about residents’ experiences. If Mission First had bothered to tell the assembled community the night before that this situation was ongoing, we might have rallied some additional support for these individuals in this rough transition.
Instead they came home to a locked door with a blue slip of paper.
This is heartbreaking, but there’s many hopeful developments:
- Mission First has agreed to a meeting.
- We’re getting more press coverage & scrutiny (expect a post on Hidden City & an article in The Daily Pennsylvanian soon, but please help reach out to other outlets)
- Councilwoman Blackwell has gone on the record expressing her disapproval & hopefully other council members will join her in scrutinizing Mission First’s activities across the city.
- We managed to get some resources (cash, trans-passes & phones) to those neighbors who found themselves unexpectedly put out last night.
- Neighbors are coming together to support their neighbors. That’s a beautiful thing.
There’s two big asks remaining:
- Halt the evictions: Mission First must recongize mistakes and work to make it right by immediately rescinding lease terminations until we are able to find a different outcome for the building, holding true to their mission of providing sustainable/permanent affordable housing.
- Make it livable: Mission First must address immediate maintenance needs and make the building livable. Children should not be without heat anywhere in the city this winter, but particularly not in one managed by an organization funded to provide safe homes for our most vulnerable.
We’re just getting started, organizing as we go, and we need your help.
We’re finalizing a process for collecting financial contributions to support the residents in this trying time, and building our organizing team. Meanwhile, a local business just stepped up to provide some gift cards to all of the residents.
If you have particular resources to offer or want to join the organizing team, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise…
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